A work friend gave me this CD, and I let it gather a bit of dust before I bothered to listen to it. When I finally fired it up, I had zero expectations – I knew only that I was going to be listening to a woman, and that the person who gave it to me was unlikely to be handing me hard-core rap or metal.
Listening to Kelley Hunt for the first time, you get the sense that you’re catching a star about to burst on the scene. She was born in Kansas City, but now lives in a lesser town a little less than an hour west. Her music reflects a life in the Midwest – a crossroads of styles and influences. She says that “The Beautiful Bones” of the title are the varieties of music that shaped her style.
She has a diva’s voice – deep, resonant, and soulful. Her sound is gospel-infused, bluesy, honkytonk soul. Her piano playing jumps, and the rest of her band is tight and talented. I haven’t seen her live, but I’ll be keeping an eye on her website for concert dates in town.
I remember once seeing a skit where a blues musician’s career was ruined by a string of good luck, and that premise could have been ripped from this album. This is not a dark, deep, bluesy album, though the arrangements would do justice to stories of shady lovers and drunken regrets. Her songs are brimming with optimism and joy – a far cry from traditional blues.
The closest she comes to complaining is her defiance of the rightwing politicians in her state: “I’m taxed enough already/No law should fence us in/But they worry who’s in my bedroom/They’ll make a law, it might be a sin”, but even that comes in a song named “I’ve Got a Good Feeling” and it’s followed by the lyrics, “I can’t put my finger on it/Don’t know why I feel this way/But I can’t help but thinkin’/Everything is gonna be okay/I’ve got a good, a good feeling/You know I’ve got a really good feeling/I have got a good feeling about today.” Can it be gospel if she’s arguing for freedom in the bedroom? Can it be blues if she’s got such a good feeling?
There are lots of pleasant surprises here. “This Time” kicks off the album with a jumping horn section and calls on people to be who they were born to be. “Golden Hour” has a background chorus celebrating glory days. “Let it Rain” is a soaring pick-me-up. “Simplify” has a solid message and just enough electric guitar spice to keep it from being preachy.
I liked this CD more than Robin did over at Deliberate Obfuscation, though I share her not-quite-entirely-captivated feeling. For me, the album is all smiles. She can sing this whole album to her mother and grandmother without risk of offense. This is the Kelley Hunt that can sing at church meetings – she doesn’t want politicians to legislate her bedroom, but she’s not going to make you think there’s anything exciting going on in there. There’s nothing wrong with positivity, but for me to really fall in love with this artist, I’m going to need to see another dimension.